As Yankees owner, Steinbrenner was a bridge to baseball's future
With the death of
There was another side to this bombastic man as well: a side that even his detractors acknowledge was always there. When I was 11 years old, the legendary columnist from the
It was announced in the morning paper that the service would be open to the public. I couldn't help but notice that the Manhattan-based funeral home was a mere 10-minute bus ride from my house. Like any normal 12-year-old in New York City, I dressed up in a blue blazer and tie and went to Young's funeral. Everyone from the New York sports scene was present, from St. John's basketball coach
As I shuffled my feet, feeling more like a voyeur than a mourner, unsure whether I should make a break for the exit, a meaty hand clamped on my shoulder and started to rub the back of the head. "This guy's here. Now we can get started," he said as he guided me inside. I looked up and it was
It's remarkable how seamlessly this story fits with the Steinbrenner people remember: the kind of guy who would reach out to an awkward kid like some kind of Daddy Warbucks, and then shove him inside. He was a part of that last group of the paternalistic owners, the people who felt like it was their duty in ownership to plow profits back into the team, creating a brand that could change the way a city saw itself.
But before we wax nostalgic, we should remember that Steinbrenner, while being a bridge to the past with his larger than life personality, was also a bridge to the future. This was the kind of man who was the model for owners from coast to coast on how to hold cities hostage for an endless flow of municipal funds. He was the kind of man who demanded costly stadium renovations in the 1970s, when the city was already enduring a fiscal nightmare. He claimed that he needed just $48 million to bring the stadium up to code. It ended up, according to Baseball Statistics, costing $160 million. He periodically threatened to move the Bronx Bombers to New Jersey, Connecticut, and most jarringly, next to Manhattan's West Side highway. He hired a 21-year-old clubhouse gofer with gambling debts by the name of
Steinbrenner justified all his misdeeds by saying, "The reason baseball has its problems is that owners weren't involved 20 years ago. ... I'm an involved owner. I'm like
If anyone ever seemed too big for New York, for better and certainly for worse, it was this man. They will say that his death signals the end of an era. But his life signaled the beginning of one.